Axios Press — New release: March 2014, 80 pgs, $12.00
This unusual book came to my attention a few weeks ago, and I started reading with the hope that it would be a useful exploration of a malady afflicting far too many artists: self-pity as a way of life. (Think: “It’s not my fault I’m not rich and famous (yet)!”) Although we can’t offer an unreserved recommendation for the book, there are chuckles to be had and lessons to learn from the journey through it.
The “author” is an enigma, both fascinating and frustrating for various reasons. Hunter Lewis has written at least seven other books delving into finance, economics and philosophical matters, and has written articles for several respected magazines. His reputation as a money guy is significant, but his philosophical tomes have gotten less attention — this is to be expected anyway, as the market is smaller. However, this book is quite different from his previous titles, and for this reason (and conceding to a mere passing knowledge of the other books) I’ve attempted to address it purely on its own merits:
Poor Me begins with the claim that the manuscript was left on his doorstep, penned by someone of the same name, with instructions to publish in absentia. Although this conceit doesn’t quite work, the book itself is an engaging ride, funny in its audacity and generally well-written. It’s also a short trip and an easy read that yet gives an introspective consumer much to think about. But reactions and results are likely to be widely varied, as readers will either laugh out loud at the satire, or hate this guy from the start, due to choice descriptions as this one:
“As important as people are, you need to avoid being friends with them. Make them think they’re your friend, sure. Get them to help you. But don’t worry about loyalty and especially don’t worry about keeping your promises.”
But soon enough, it’s clear that this is the author’s point (whether you envision him to be Lewis the Real or Lewis the Figurative). Hang in there — this is flashback time, and the dastardly jackass described is just one of many self-defined archetypes that are laid out before us. Most of the book consists of a long series of short sections, each outlining a different mindset that he has adopted at different periods of his life, and giving each its own label: “Prince”, “High Flyer”, “Avenger”, “Recluse”, “Routinist”, and many more. It is mind-boggling and downright frightening to think that anyone is quite this changeable, making it essential to embrace the exercise and resist any urge to take it literally: the character he presents is a man in search of himself, and willing to try everything.
Lewis has personal characteristics that may make him easy for our readers to relate to. For instance, he makes reference to being a singer and artist, and profoundly moved by the writing of multi-hyphenate Paul Bowles. The voice of a performer is loud and clear throughout the book, and there is much to connect with, although much of it may require your own self-deprecating grin. He’s prone to grandiosity, boldly comparing himself to Machiavelli early on. (Singers never do that…)
What’s his point?
In the end, there are intriguing questions, such as the nature of happiness and the functional value of emotions, and whether or not we have a choice in pursuing or partaking of either. Lest we offer too many spoilers, suffice it to say that he ends on a rather convoluted philosophical note, stating that his life is the result of how others have treated him, that yes that is self-pity in and of itself, and he’s choosing to “perfect” self-pity until, perhaps, it leads to something else. (But probably not?) This argument in favor of self-pity as a life choice holds a surprising amount of intrigue, championing a seemingly worthless snare as a reality-inducing tool. Even as satire, it is not nearly convincing enough to embrace, nor is it quite entertaining enough to enjoy and dismiss. But thoughts have certainly been provoked. Think of it as philosophical kick in the head, and see what happens.